just published: mayan journey

AsiaSpa - Mayan JoureyIf last December’s prevailing wisdom had held true you wouldn’t be reading this. The storied Mayan calendar was famously closing in on the winter solstice and the end of its 144,000-day cycle. Interpreters of the calendar – and a host of New Age conspiracy theorists – predicted the date would coincide with a global cataclysm. Good thing nobody held their breath, because the Maya believed in the cyclical nature of things. The end of the calendar didn’t presage the end of the world; it marked a new beginning.  Call it a transition or period of renewal, but the Maya believed in the necessity of an epochal timeout before moving forward.  Spanish conquistadors might have brought about that break sooner than expected – subjugating the people by the end of the 17th century – yet descendants of the Maya continue to form sizable populations throughout Mexico’s Yucutan peninsula. Plus, many of their cities and ceremonial sites still remain. The wisdom of these ancient Americans hasn’t been lost. It’s laying patiently in wait for a Mayan journey of rediscovery. READ MORE.

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please stand by

technical-difficultiesI’ve been having technical difficulties. And then I got sick. And then I had to travel. And then I got sick again. Meanwhile, my coding issues started to pile up and up and up. Needless to say, it’s been a difficult month. Please stand by – and thanks for your patience. I’ll be back in business by the weekend, fingers crossed!

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genever, or before gin

bols-genever-gin-antique-bottleBelgium might be best known for its beer, but it also makes a special spirit called genever (pronounced jen-EE-ver). Produced for over 500 years, this drink is to Belgium as whiskey is to Scotland. Many of today’s classic gin cocktails were originally made with genever, and with good cause: English gin evolved from this Belgian forebear. Belgians generally sip and savor genever ice cold in shot glasses that have just been pulled from the freezer, but why not shake things up and swap out gin for genever in a cooling summer cocktail? I’ve suddenly got a hankering for a new-style Pimm’s Cup.

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please pack your knives and go

ObesityNZ1New Zealand is – surprisingly – the third most obese nation in the developed world (after the United States and Mexico) yet a 266-pound resident and successful chef from South Africa is currently in the process of being deported after 6 years in the country. The reason is simple: he is too fat for New Zealand. The fat guy is Albert Buitenhuis, who is five feet ten inches tall and has a body mass index of 40 – making him clinically obese. Immigration New Zealand (INZ) says that an applicant’s BMI must be under 35. But Buitenhaus is not leaving without a fight. “INZ’s medical assessors have said to consider to what extent there might be indications of future high-cost and high-need demand for health services,” an official said, as quoted by the Huffington Post. The chef has appealed to the country’s immigration minister, citing a recent weight loss, but the incident begs a larger conversation which, frankly, nobody wants to initiate: what is the collective cost of endemic obesity? The INZ might be coming at this from out of left field – and surely there will be charges of unfairness, even discrimination – but that shouldn’t negate the promise of government to promote the general welfare.

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footloose and fancy pants-free

skinny-dippers001What do Lady Gaga, George Washington, Hugh Jackman, Shakira and Ben Franklin have in common? They’ve all admitted to enjoying an old-fashioned skinny dip. Movie stars, musicians and entertainers today might be openly professing their comfort level with getting naked while swimming. But cleaning house? Gardening? Washing the family pet in your birthday suit? Absolutely – if the American Association For Nude Recreation has any say in the matter. The AANR promotes the stress-relieving freedom of shedding your inhibitions – and swimsuits – each July with a Nude Recreation Week at over 250 clothing-optional and clothes-free clubs across North America. Plus, as a grand finale in the buff celebrations this year, they’re plotting a world record skinny dip on July 13. Staycations are so last year (and the year before that); strip down and get ready for the rise of the Nakation.

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nothin’ but juice

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the new green economy

marijuana_investmentLawmakers in Washington and Colorado have until December of this year to lay down the rules for the legalization and sale of pot. And one question, ahem, high on the agenda: how does all of this relate to tourists? If Amsterdam is a good example, pot tourism literally brings in the green in more ways than one. Although the Netherlands had tried to enforce a ban on the selling of pot to tourists, the Amsterdam City Council refused to comply, because they are fully aware of how well their coffers are being lined by pot-smoking tourists. In fact, pot sales are doing so well, the Amsterdam City Council wants to be allowed to grow its own weed. It does not seem, however, that either Washington or Colorado are much concerned about waiting around for the lawmakers to set the limits for buying and selling marijuana. There’s a lot of wiggle room in the interpretation of simply enjoying any grass on offer. One of the largest annual events and a big tourist draw in the Pacific Northwest is an event called Hempfest. In Seattle, a marijuana dinner cruise will set sail this summer, while in Colorado, Snoop Lion (the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg) didn’t get into a whiff of trouble for throwing joints out into the crowd at a Denver Center Park event last month. Heck, you can even take a cannabis cooking class in Denver. Who knows, maybe they’re onto something. Maybe pot tourism is the new green economy.

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blog, interrupted

Time loses its elasticity when a loved one is gravely ill. There is no familiar ebb and flow to daily life; those banal signifiers such as meals and work that tell you when to rise and when to rest fail to register as consequential. Minutes, hours, and days meld into one long k-hole of darkness without any seeming end. Which is why this blog has fallen into a state of suspended animation, as it were. This week, for the first time in three years, I have missed my regular daily postings. Yet I’m optimistic that time will be quantifiable again very soon. And I’ll be back to posting about the trivialities of life which bring me so much pleasure. But until that point comes, like so many other people, it’s all I can do to look for the light.

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from the archives: massage of a lifetime

Mandarin Oriental Central Park view

High above Columbus Circle in Manhattan, the Mandarin Oriental has an over-the-top spa with spectacular views of Central Park. And while raising the bar for service and ambiance, it is also raising the bar on what the market will bear for a simple rubdown. With the recent surge of affordable qi gong joints popping up all over major cities — not to mention practically every nail salon now offering to rebalance your chakras for $20 — you’d be hard-pressed to pay more than $100 bucks for an hour of qualified deep-tissue attention. Even nearby, high-end day retreats such as Bliss and Sanctuary top out at $200 for a hot stone or lomi-lomi massage. However, in the rarified world of the Mandarin-in-the-sky, a no-frills massage will set you back about a cool $500. Read more HERE.

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chaos and claustrophobia, or the daily shop

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For sheer chaos and claustrophobia, it’s hard to beat the daily market in Siem Reap. (The smells, too, are something I’ll not soon forget.) Most of the meat and fish is killed and cleaned to order, so you know it’s all as fresh as it gets – if not exactly on par with Western standards of safe and sanitary. I left wondering what, if anything, might make these women – mostly barefoot in and among the blood and guts – squeamish.

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making sense

If there’s one thing that can lure me out of my lair it’s a trip to the spa, which at Rosewood Mayakoba is tucked into the jungle on its own private island. I’m getting a taste of what’s to come in celebration of the end of the Mayan calendar – or what some pessimistic folks are calling the Mayan Apocalypse. Emmanuel Arroyo, Spa Director at Sense, A Rosewood Spa, is one of the optimists, however. “The end of the calendar on December 21st isn’t the end of the world but the end of a cycle,” he tells me while showing off the unobtrusively expansive facilities. “A new cycle is beginning; and with that comes the promise of renewal.” All of which sounds like the perfect excuse to be a pampered guinea pig for the 2 1/2 hour Mayan Equinox Ritual, which begins with a blessing of copal, the ceremonial incense used by Mayan warriors before going into battle. Afterwards comes a full-body jade exfoliation, a gold-infused wrap and mask to nourish and protect the skin, and a 90-minute mineralizing massage that incorporates silver. A word to the wise: they might want to think about rechristening the treatment - something more akin to Mayan Warrior, perhaps? – because far from feeling like I need to scraped off the table at the end, I feel revitalized, armed, and ready to conquer. Maybe the time has come for me to seize the beach.

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live blog: the hippocratic oak

 

In front of the imposing castle of the Knights of Saint John on the island of Kos stands an enormous plane tree, spindly, ungainly and estimated to be the unusually august age of 500 years old. (plane trees, I have since learned, tend to meet their demise around the century mark.) Propped up by skeletal scaffolding it’s known as the Tree of Hippocrates and is descended from a tree first planted by the famous Greek physician – often called the father of Western medicine – who in the 5th Century BC taught his students under its shade. Given that Hippocrates is generally credited with being the first person to believe that diseases were caused naturally and not due to superstitions or the petty cruelty of the gods, this living monument seems altogether more fitting than anything man-made.

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look ma, no gluten

Over the last two years or so, the humble pizza pie has morphed from an object of cult-like devotion inside a small group of New York City obsessives into a sacred cow at the center of a full-fledged crust war among a clique of self-appointed pizza promise-keepers: Totonno’s, Roll-n-Roaster, Keste, Co, Roberta’s, Rizzo’s, Otto, Nick’s, L&B Spumoni, Denino’s, Artichoke Basille’s, Di Fara, Pulino’s and don’t forget 99¢ Fresh Pizza. Each new arrival – and they lately seem to arrive with alarming alacrity – slaps against the old guard claiming esoteric layers of heretofore unheard of authenticity.  It all sounds vaguely Sharks versus Jets until you remember that the man behind Carroll Gardens’ nationally ranked Lucali pie, Mark Iacono, was stabbed in the face during an argument over sauce last year. (Or maybe it was a mob shakedown – the facts remains sketchy) Still, the cupcakeification of what many folks fondly recall as the ultimate in after-hours stoner food is enough to make a reasonable individual shake their head. I have a sneaking suspicion I could get shot for this, but what is the big deal about pizza anyway? I don’t understand the extremism. (And why can’t we all just get along?) Maybe it’s me. Maybe now that I am relatively gluten-free the dough-sauce-cheese combo doesn’t, for all practical purposes, enter my brain as a viable option. When Don Antonio by Starita‘s wood-fired oven opened a block away from my office I couldn’t have cared less, though among the pizzerati it was monumental event: Keste’s Roberto Caporuscio teaming up with his Naples mentor, Antonio Starita. A menu dropped at my desk weeks later boasted of filled pizza, white pizza, stuffed pizza, fried pizza, Pope’s pizza and lo and behold, senza glutine pizza. If third generation pizza royalty could pull off a gluten-free pie, perhaps I was ready to finally give pizza its due. And so one afternoon I hesitantly did, visiting Don Antonio for lunch and settling in with a co-worker over a glass of Montepulciano, shaved fennel salad, and Prosciutto e Arugula, a gluten-free pie topped with homemade mozzarella, prosciutto di parma, arugula and extra virgin olive oil. As expected the pizza arrived perfectly composed, like a Renaissance art work. The crust was heavier than its genetic forebear, the Neapolitan thin crust, and denser, too. It didn’t hold up to the slice test but worked beautifully with a knife and fork. Good sauce, mild cheese, a nice balance of salty pork playing off peppery greens. And mamma mia, was it filling! To my chagrin I could barely finish half. Which made things very convenient for the second part of any proper pizza test: leftovers. Let me state for the record, I do not recommend taking gluten-free pizza home. Something texturally odd happens once the magma cools. It develops the unpleasant rubber-meets-air consistency of a whoopie cushion or a pancake made of polenta, simultaneously pillowy and heavy. It went down like a lead balloon, reminding me how often certain foods are at their best when eaten on a craven whim – a piping hot whim. And that’s my problem:  I’m too much of a conscious eater as of late. Pizza warriors, duke it out amongst yourselves. But count me ready to take up arms once it comes to defending the one true quinoa.

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seed the soul

In pre-Columbian times the Maya and Aztecs revered chia seeds for their amazing energy and natural healing powers. One tablespoon of the seeds was considered capable of sustaining a warrior for 24 hours. A component of both societies diets, the ancient grain played a prominent role in religious ceremonies, too. Today, chia is the force behind the famous long distance runners, the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. Chia seeds come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family, which grows in North and South America. Consumed as early as 3,000 B.C., chia seeds were eaten as a grain, mixed with water, ground into flour, mixed into medicines, and pressed for omega-3 oil. As anyone who has followed my capricious dietary peregrinations since the start of this site knows, these extraordinary seeds offer a complete nutritional profile of omega-3, balanced dietary fiber, complete protein, antioxidants and minerals – chia really is one of the world’s healthiest whole foods.  Now along comes Mamma Chia, a new all-organic beverage pairing chia seeds, fruit juice, and a light touch of agave. With flavors like Blackberry Hibiscus, Cherry Lime, Raspberry Passion, Coconut Mango, and Pomegranate Mint, it’s official: chia has gone mainstream. Which is a good thing, really, because I’m addicted to the funky viscosity of these little super seeds.

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smells like me

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve breathed in that fragrant mix of flowers, fruit and tropical Caribbean wood and wished I could somehow capture it and take it home. Just a little something to get me through the dog days of winter. So imagine my excitement at discovering how the Spa at Four Seasons Resorts Nevis  – intoxicating in its own sublime way – has partnered with noted organic alchemist, Ajne, to take those smells a flacon further and create 100% natural, one-of-a-kind perfumes. Typically a customized formula takes weeks or even months to complete – and often costs a small fortune, too. Yet Ajne’s ingenious blending process takes a cool 90-minutes while lounging by the Spa pool or taking in the Nevis sunset, cocktail in hand. To create my bespoke formula a Melangeur, or mixer, administers a quirky computerized fragrance analysis based on Sanskrit chakras, which divide the body into energy centers. Test questions determine fragrance preferences and help find areas of the body and psyche in need of balancing. The Melangeur works like a private scent sherpa, guiding me over the fragrant terrain and assisting me in discovering ingredients ideal to my body chemistry. Working one-on-one she mixes combinations of rare and precious plant oils – some worth their weight in gold. Not only do I walk away with a greater understanding of myself, but the real results are delivered to my room an hour later: a hand-blended smell that is individual and entirely me. And totally Nevis, too.

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